EU under threat as sceptics boosted by Brexit
Eurosceptic politicians across the continent are delighted by Britain’s unprecedented decision to leave. EU leaders are unsure how to react. Could this crisis mean the end of the union?
‘Hurray for the British! Now it is our turn. Time for a Dutch referendum.’
‘The people’s spring is now inevitable!’
This was how Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen — anti-EU politicians in the Netherlands and France — responded to Britain’s decision to leave the bloc. Le Pen, a French nationalist, even changed her Twitter picture to a Union Jack.
Their joy contrasted with the mood in Brussels yesterday, as national leaders and MEPs met. ‘Europe is ready to start the divorce process, without any enthusiasm,’ said Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.
The UK will be the first country to leave the EU, but others may follow. Le Pen, Wilders and Austria’s Norbert Hofer are winning support. Left-wing anti-EU parties have momentum, particularly in Scandinavia. The unaligned anti-establishment Five Star Movement has made gains in Italy.
Nearly half of EU citizens now view it unfavourably, according to a poll. Their complaints include its power and remoteness, liberal border policies and the eurozone’s economic problems. Behind them lies an urge to reclaim power at a national level.
EU leaders disagree on how to respond. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission (EC), has called for further integration. When he was asked if the EU was now ending on Friday, he only said: ‘No’.
But today, Tusk will launch a ‘wider reflection on the future of the EU’. His approach is supported by Manuel Valls, France’s prime minister, who said this weekend: ‘We must break away from the dogma of ever more Europe’.
The EU has witnessed several rebellions at the ballot box since its expansion in 2004. In 2005, the French and Dutch rejected a proposed constitution; in 2008, Irish voters refused the Lisbon treaty; last year, Greeks voted against a tough bailout deal.
These crises were solved. But the union has never faced this serious a mutiny. Le Pen now says: ‘the destiny of the European Union resembles the destiny of the Soviet Union’. Will it break up?
Will I see EU again?
Some say the EU is dying. It has reached its natural limit and its people are rebelling against it. It has illegitimately taken too much power and paid scant attention to the distinctive economies and communities within it. Nation states will now be emboldened by the UK’s brave example and reassert control over their affairs.
That will not happen, say others. Europeans still want to travel and trade. Most fear the break-up of the EU: far-right and far-left leaders will fill the vacuum and the continent’s people will turn against each other. And when the impact of Brexit becomes clear, few will want to follow in Britain’s footsteps. The dream of an integrated Europe will survive.
- Do you prefer making decisions with others or on your own?
- Is the EU destined to break up?
- Draw a cartoon strip of six pictures, illustrating the details of this story.
- Research an anti-EU movement in a country of your choice (other than the UK). Produce a one-page factfile explaining what it stands for, who supports it and how likely it is to succeed in removing its country from the EU.
Some People Say...
“The world will never stop feeling smaller.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I live in Britain, which has made its decision. Should I care what other countries do?
- In a globalised world, information, goods and people travel quickly across borders. This means you will be affected by things that happen in other countries, as well as your own. For example, if another country’s economy crashes, people in Britain will be affected. This could make you poorer. But if people are able to make their own laws, they may consider themselves better equipped to become rich and happy.
- I live outside the EU. Does this affect me?
- The general attitudes behind anti-EU movements — a desire for sovereignty and control, anger at powerful institutions and perhaps fear of the globalised world — exist elsewhere too. This may help to inform your view of similar movements in your own country.
- Polls suggest eight out of ten Dutch people no longer regard the break-up of the EU as out of the question.
- Le Pen
- The National Front leader is likely to mount a significant challenge for the French presidency next year. If she wins, she will hold a referendum on EU membership within six months.
- Norbert Hofer
- Hofer lost last month’s presidential election by just 0.6% of the vote. He says a referendum could take place ‘within a year’ if the EU continues to centralise.
- The Red Green alliance in Denmark has 14 seats in parliament, the Left party in Sweden 21.
- Conducted by Pew this year.
- Ten new countries joined. Most were formerly Soviet-dominated nations from eastern Europe. It was the EU’s largest single expansion to date.
- This was designed to streamline the EU’s 40 treaties and agreements into one document and make the EU more efficient. Opponents objected that it involved giving away sovereignty.
- Lisbon treaty
- This amended previous treaties. Opponents said the EU had simply recreated the constitution which had been rejected by voters.